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Pentagon Investigating Flynn Over Foreign Payments; W.H. Blames Obama Admin For Flynn Security Clearance; Trump: "Major, Major" Conflict With North Korea Possible; Haley Warns Russia To Stop Helping Assad; GOP Tries To Ram Throughout Health Care Before Milestone; Defense Official: 2 U.S. Special Ops Members Killed. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:03] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Anderson. You know, maybe the fact that Obama had fired Flynn was all the vetting process Trump needed. "The Lead" starts right now.

Some breaking news, a top House Democrat accusing the White House of a "cover up." And the time, the Pentagon is providing new information that makes the ethics of Flynn's trip to Russia look as cloudy as a bowl of borscht.

Breaking news, some brand new poll numbers dropping this hour on "The Lead". How voters feel about Commander-in-Chief Trump. His military moves, and whether those moves have made America more or less safe. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley will be here for reaction.

Plus, try, try again, Republicans racing to get a vote on a revived plan to repeal and replace Obamacare before President Trump's 100-day on Saturday because, of course, that is the priority.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to "The Lead." I'm Jake Tapper. Shocking developments today in the investigation in the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and his relationship with Russia and some astounding attempts as well at buck passing by the Trump White House.

Today, the House Oversight Committee released a letter from the Defense Intelligence Agency spelling out ethics guidelines that the DIA provided to Flynn back in 2014 right after President Obama had fired Flynn as director of the DIA.

The letter noted that the U.S. constitution, "Prohibits receipt of consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria, or salary by all retired military personnel from a foreign government unless permission from the secretary of the army and the secretary of state is first obtained."

Now, that was one year before Flynn accepted money from Russia for among other things a visit to Moscow for a gala celebrating R.T. The Kremlin owned and operated propaganda channel, a fact at which the former director of the DIA sat next to Vladimir Putin. Now the big question, of course, did Flynn receive permission for that trip and those payments ahead of time? The DIA wrote to the House investigators in a letter that we saw for the first time today that they have no records of Flynn, "Seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source."

We also learned today that the Pentagon and inspector general is now investigating all of this. Flynn's attorney, Robert Kelner, said in a statement that, "DIA's letter actually confirms in a terse section that is partly redacted that General Flynn provided information and documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the R.T. speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speakers' bureau for the event." You'll notice that that statement from Flynn's attorney does not address the issue of permission or the issue of payment.

Now, all of this might seem embarrassing for the White House, which I think it's clear to say did not do an adequate job of vetting the national security advisor before giving him the position. You might remember it's the same national security advisor that President Trump soon fired for lying to the vice president about what, about his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

After all, I mean, Flynn was one of the top national security voices at then candidate Trump's side. He played a huge role in the campaign, in the transition and was going to be the national security advisor and then he was. Remember this moment from the Republican convention?


MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR TRUMP: Lock her up. That's right. Yeah, that's right. Lock her up.


TAPPER: That didn't hit well. At the White House today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if the administration is satisfied with the vetting that was done of General Flynn by the transition team. Spicer's response --


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was issued a security clearance under the Obama administration in the spring of 2016.


TAPPER: The Obama administration. It went on like that.


SPICER: In the Obama administration, during the Obama administration, under the Obama administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: To be fair to Sean, it is a legitimate question as to whether the army and the Defense Department under Obama renewed Flynn's security clearance without sufficient diligence, especially given that Russian trip and Russian money. But, that is not the same thing as appointing and vetting Flynn to one of the top national security positions in the U.S. government.

And remember, Obama fired Flynn from a lower position in the national security community. Now, you might wonder why was Flynn fired. Well, last July when Flynn was being considered for the V.P. slot, Flynn wrote an op-ed for "The New York Post" entitled "The military fired me for calling our enemies radicals jihadis."

[21:05:04] There's a different theory that we saw in a hacked e-mail from last year when we read that General Colin Powell told his son that he had asked DIA officials why Flynn had been fired and he had been told, "abusive with staff, didn't listen, worked against policy, bad management, et cetera. He has been and was right-wing nutty ever since."

Joining me to discuss all of this is Admiral John Kirby. He's known General Flynn for years and he work for the Pentagon when Flynn was being pushed out of the DIA. Admiral, thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, for those people not familiar with all of the different security clearances and vetting, explain the difference between having a security clearance and also the vetting process to become a national security advisor.

ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: The security clearance is one piece of the larger vetting process, Jake. When I went from the Pentagon to state, I had to retire from the navy to become a civilian employee at the State Department. My clearance followed me over to the State Department, although the State Department didn't have to petition to make sure it could be renewed. But that was just one piece of a larger and more complicated vetting process that I went through by the Obama White House.

They looked at all my social media footprints. They looked at almost every transcript I gave at a press conference at the Pentagon. Interviews I'd done. They talked to more people. I mean, there was a very extensive process. So, if the transition team did this, they have to have paper on that. They have to have paper on that. They have to have a record of it and there would be no reason why they wouldn't turn that over.

It's absolutely just ridiculous to me to pitch it all away on the Obama administration. Yes, he got his clearance while he was, you know -- well, President Obama was still in office, but that's just one piece of a much larger process.

TAPPER: So, when Sean was asked about whether or not they did enough vetting of Flynn during the transition period and he said, "well, his clearance was renewed under the Obama administration in spring 2016," which is true, which 100 percent true. KIRBY: Right.

TAPPER: That's not in your view fully answering the question about whether or not he was fully vetted.

KIRBY: Absolutely not, no. Now, so two things happened here, Jake. Either, they didn't really vet him. They just figured the clearance was enough and it shouldn't have been. It certainly is not the normal practice. Or, they did vet him in addition to having the security clearance renewed and they just don't want to make records of that vetting public.

And -- I mean, if -- it doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, they hired him as national security advisor. There should be no reason why they wouldn't want to make any of those records public.

TAPPER: How seriously do people in the military take these reminders from lawyers and ethics counselors about emoluments claws of the constitution and the ethics people saying you're not allowed to take foreign payments without permission because it doesn't seem as though, based on the information we have now that we've gotten from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House and others, it doesn't seem as though General Flynn followed the letter of the law.

KIRBY: Yeah. Well, you just said it in the end there. It's the law. It's not just ethics advice. It's the law when you retire. And when you retire, at least when I retired from the navy, the navy made it very clear to me what the rules were, what the laws were, what I could and couldn't do.

And as you noted, I've known General Flynn a long time. Very smart man. We worked well together at the Pentagon and he was a brave and courageous soldier, no question about that. I would be very surprised if he also didn't get full briefing on the kind of constraints that we're going to be placed on him in retirement and therefore I'd be really surprised if it, you know, if it turns out in this investigation that he didn't ask for permission.

And it isn't just about telling people and it's not even about telling DIA. The law says your parent service, in case the army for him, and the Secretary of State, not one or the other, but both. And so that DIA doesn't have, you know, paperwork on it. It's interesting to me, but it's not really relevant. The law was clear. It's got to go to the army and it's got to go to the State Department.

TAPPER: All right. Admiral Kirby, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

For more, I want to bring in my political roundtable. They're going to be with me all night reacting to all the news. Let me start with Jason Kander. You are a retired army officer.

JASON KANDER, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN: Former, yes. You got to spend more time to be retired.

TAPPER: OK. You're a former army officer. What's your -- I mean, you're also a Democrat. What's your react -- remove the partisan part of this. What is your reaction as an officer?

KANDER: Well, my reaction is that the Trump administration has made it really clear that if you are a person who is a refugee and is fleeing our enemies, then you're going to go through a very extreme vetting process.

But, apparently, if you're going to be at the top of the pyramid, you'll be able to see everything as the national security advisor, then it's not going to be the same process. I mean, to me this is all as -- from a military leadership perspective, this is all part of a pattern of dodging responsibility when things go poorly.

You know, sometimes you got to step forward and say, "Yeah, we missed that one." And I don't see them doing that here. I mean, that would make this a shorter story for one thing. But, really, it's just the right thing to do. It's what we do in the military. It's, "Hey, got done along. We're going to get it right next time." That's what they have.

TAPPER: You guys have a lot of terms for that that we can't say on air. (Inaudible) is an acronym for one of them.

[21:10:05] Andre, as a Trump supporter and somebody who worked to get him elected, personal loyalty is a very important quality for President Trump. Do you think that that sometimes clouds judgment?

ANDRE BAUER, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Possibly. I think loyalty is a big thing for him and having people he can trust around just as he did in business and now in politics because he doesn't have anybody really in Washington that is somebody he can lean on and that's why you've seen him bring folks in that he knew previously to be his closest confidant, so I think it is. And sometimes that's a weak spot when you put so much trust, and so if you think which is what he stand.

But going back, I was reading the "Chicago Tribune" story just a few minutes ago and they said when his clearance was reinstated then, in fact, the Obama administration did know about his visit to Moscow.

TAPPER: Oh, they did know. OK. That's interesting. It's a strange story, though.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: So you're telling me we're not talking about the NFL draft. Let me throw out my notes here. I think he's gone, right? So, he's been fired now by Obama and he's been let go by Trump. So perhaps we can move on from Flynn. He clearly made some mistakes. It sounds like they did know about the one trip.

And I think when you asked earlier like how did he get its job, partly because he had a high-profile job in the Obama administration. He has a long military career and people have a lot of leeway for that kind of thing. And there's probably a part of the Trump administration that was like, "Oh, you got fired by Obama, great. Let's hire him."

TAPPER: Right. HAM: That is not a great impulse, right, as you see.

TAPPER: Why do you think the story continues to stay alive even though he's now been fired by two president?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's because of the Russian investigation. There are still active investigations in the House there (ph) and the Senate. And they -- and this is a part of the Trump administration's potential links with Russia and Flynn was very much a part of the campaign. He had these contacts during the campaign, he and several other people. So, that is why this is still relevant because it has to do with hacking into the election.

TAPPER: And was fired for lying to the vice president about a conversation with the Russian ambassador.

HAM: There has been no actual allegation that he colluded with them on hacking anything.


HAM: Of course not. No, not at all. Just clarifying.

TAPPER: You're the first one to say that, to even talk about that.

HAM: I'm clarifying.

TAPPER: How dare you. How dare you. Everyone, stick around.

Coming up, we have some breaking news tonight. Just minutes ago, President Trump in a brand new interview said that there is a chance the U.S. could end up in a "major conflict with North Korea" citing it as his biggest global concern and also making some seemingly complimentary comments about Kim Jong-un. All of that coming up, stay with us.


[21:16:22] TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead". We actually really do have some breaking news this hour. President Trump just told Reuters that North Korea is his biggest global worry and also tried to give just a little credit kind of, maybe a little bit of a compliment to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live for us at the White House. Jeff, what did the president have to say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, some very strong words from the president tonight on North Korea. He has been talking about this behind the scenes with his advisors, of course, the briefing yesterday with senators.

But let's take a look at these very fresh comments just coming in now from an Oval Office interview with the Reuters. The president said this. He said "There is a chance that we could end up having a major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely." So, the major, major conflict absolutely is certainly some blunt language from this president who, of course, has said he wants to try and resolve this diplomatically.

And then he goes on to talk about the leader of North Korea. Of course, his questions about Kim Jong-un's mental stability have been certainly raised his faculties, but the president says this about him, Jake. Let's take a look at this.

He says, "He's 27 years old. His father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want, but that is not easy, especially at that age." He goes on to say, "I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit, I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational."

So, Jake, again some interesting words. I guess some charitable words, if you will. The leader is actually in his low 30s so he got the age slightly wrong. But, again, half the age of this president, who, of course, is keeping a very close eye on the rising threat from that regime there, but some interesting words tonight, blunt words.

But, Jake, we should point out there are no signs in the region immediately that this is eminent at all. There have been no evacuations from the embassy there or anything like that. But, again, this threat certainly on the mind of the White House, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this all, fascinating. First of all, on one hand saying there's a chance of a major, major conflict, absolutely, with North Korea. And on the other hand saying some nice things about young Kim Jong-Un and how tough it was to take over the family business at age 27 before killing his uncle.

HAM: Right. It's classic Trump. On the one hand you get this pretty, you know, bombastic language about a possible conflict. I'm glad it's a major concern for him. I'm grad he hopes that the leader of North Korea is rational.

On the other hand, I do think when you're a dictator and you're a son of a dictator, it's sort of a turnkey operation with the oppression in the family and what not. So I don't know if I give him a ton of credit for that. But this is a very --

TAPPER: You think he kind of wrong. Just like -- that the family story just kind of operates.



HAM: But this is --


HAM: -- usually kill their family members either. KUCINICH: Right, yes.

HAM: So, it's classic Trump. I don't know that it makes me feel great, but I like that it's a major concern for him.

TAPPER: It is interesting, Andre, that this is, I think, the second or third time the president has been asked about Kim Jong-un's mental stability, his emotional stability and he never takes the bate. He really shows he's thinking about what his words might do.

I mean, he doesn't say no. He seems fine. He doesn't go at him the way that probably most of us would, if given our (inaudible). But he says, "I hope he's rational." I don't know. I'm not qualified. It's a --

BAUER: I know you're viewers never think I do this, but I'm going to disagree with Donald Trump. I do not think he is a rational man. I think he's crazy. Anybody killing off their family members likes this guy, it scares me. I think it scares a lot of Americans what we have over North Korea, right? And evidently, the president is concerned as well.

[21:20:03] TAPPER: Yeah, but what I'm saying, Jason, is that it's kind of a diplomatic and screwing (ph) response.

KANDER: I think you're being very generous. Here's what I think. I listen to that and I don't hear a commander-in-chief. I don't hear a president. I hear a spectator who finds all of this very interesting and maybe want to comment on what he's seeing.

So instead of saying it is possible that there could be a military conflict, we're going to do everything possible that, you know. What he's doing is he's not actually in any detectible way changing the previous administration's policy toward North Korea. What he is doing is he's dialing up the rhetoric to a level by talking about there could be a major confrontation. We're going to go and take care of it ourselves if China doesn't.

So he's dialing up the rhetoric raising the temperature with people who we think are trying to develop nuclear weapons that can reach our country. And then he's talking about it as if he's just another guy watching all of this and it's really interesting.

If I were an American soldier right now in South Korea or in the region, I would be very concerned that my commander, the very top of the pyramid is just really interested in all of this and doesn't seem to, you know, have a commander's perspective.

TAPPER: And thousands of U.S. soldiers, of course, in both South Korea and in Japan. Jackie, the administration who argues that what President Trump is doing behind the scenes with China is actually having an effect.

KOCINICH: Right, because they're trying to increase the pressure on China because China is center stage here. Because what they do with North Korea, they're the main supply line is what could change the behavior and they're the ones who immediately stand to suffer the most if North Korea either falls or decides to shoot off some weapons.

So it's too soon to tell whether it's working or not, but this is certainly -- if you're the Chinese president watching -- reading that interview, that's got to make you worried that he's not going after the North Korea.

HAM: Well, I think there's a part of this too where rhetoric actually matters. It's one of the weapons you have before you get to using military force. So, the part that concerns me is that I never credit the Trump administration with like too much strategy about exactly what rhetoric they're using. But I don't mind somebody taking a harsher tone because that can change behaviors theoretically and we will see what happen with China.


TAPPER: We will see. But the question is, is he trying to change Kim Jong-un's behavior or he is trying to change Chinese President Xi's behavior?

KANDER: One point, Jake, is why is it at all interesting to the president that Kim Jong-un had to take over the family business, which is, you know, hurting people and being a dictator. Like, why is that relevant to him? Why does the President of the United States need to opine on that? He doesn't. I mean, it's not helpful.

TAPPER: I think he's trying -- I mean, just to -- I know your question was rhetorical, but I think what he's trying to do is flatter Kim Jong-un the way he flatters people in his business deals or on Congress or reporters or whatever. I mean, I think that's the strategy.

HAM: Well, he just had this failed missile launch, so now he gets a little solid from them.

TAPPER: Everybody stay here. We got lots more to discuss, including more breaking news. We have some brand new CNN polls about to drop, including questions about how much Americans think North Korea poses an immediate threat to this nation. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


[21:27:06] TAPPER: We have some more breaking news for you right now. In our politics lead brand new CNN/ORC polls on the new commander-in- chief and major threats to the United States. The polls describe how Americans feel about the major crisis facing the America first president.

CNN's John King is at the magic wall for us. And, John, as you know, President Trump just told Reuters that North Korea is his biggest global worry. Do American share his viewed that North Korea posses an immediate threat to the United States?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of Americans do. And he gets generally high marks as commander-in-chief so far. Let's look at the numbers you ask here. 37percent of Americans, so nearly 40 percent say North Korea is an immediate threat.

Ask the question a week or two after what president says it might go up. 49 percent view North Korea more as a long-term threat. As they hear about the missile provocations, the nuclear program, 13 percent somehow say North Korea is not a threat at all. This is a cross.

Last night we talked about -- if you look at the Democrats and Republicans on domestic issues there's a big partisan split. This is pretty shared, pretty consistent when you break it down. But you get partisan when you go deeper.

Remember back when this all started to stare down and the president said the armada, the U.S. naval group, the USS Carrier Group Carl Vinson was heading toward the Korean peninsula, we later learned it was actually heading in the other direction when he said that for previously scheduled military exercises. Well, 42 percent of Americans think that misinformation from the administration hurt U.S. credibility. 56 percent say no.

But, Jake, this is where it gets stunning. On a lot of these foreign policy questions just like at home, look at the split. 66 percent of Democrats say that's a big deal. The president hurt U.S. credibility. 83 percent of Republicans say no, it didn't hurt U.S. credibility at all. So when you get -- the broad question is North Korea a threat? That's a national concern. It's not partisan. When you get into some of the details, you get your splits.

TAPPER: One of the biggest actions that President Trump has taken so far was the strike against Bashar al-Assad air force in Syria. What do Americans think should be done in Syria?

KING: Much as throughout the Obama administration. This part is not new for all the new staff of the Trump administration. This is not, you know, Americans are pretty divided.

45 percent of American say priority one should be defeating ISIS in Syria. 33 percent say it should be setting up networks to better distribute humanitarian aid. Only 7 percent say to support the anti- Assad rebels should be priority one. 8 percent say all of this should be the priority.

But, again, take a look when you break it down. Republicans are much more inclined to say top priority get ISIS, defeat ISIS. Democrats more split. 40 percent, though, twice the percentage of Republican says priority one should be humanitarian aid.

So, again, this debate not unique to President Trump. Remember, we went through this in the Obama administration. Republicans wanted to be more hawkish, Democrats wanted to help people on the ground. That partisan divide continues.

TAPER: Another big foreign policy story in the Trump administration has to do with Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Every major U.S. intelligence agency says Russia did try to interfere in the elections. Do Americans believe them? KING: Yes. A large percentage of Americans do. And this, the partisanship here gets fascinating. Do you think Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election? 27 percent of Americans say extremely likely, 19 percent very likely, 32 percent somewhat likely. So you could add that up, most Americans think it's at least somewhat likely that the Russians deliberately tried to influence the U.S. election.

[21:30:08] Now, let's go down through these questions. What if it's proven? What if we lay out a compelling case to the intelligence community, the congressional investigations, the FBI, they approved. Russia meddled in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

16 percent of American said that's a crisis. 46 percent nearly have say a major problem. So if you add those two up, you get what were ongoing here. 24 percent minor problem, somehow 13 percent of American said that would not be that all a problem.

Again, now look at this. Democrats think this is a big deal, major problem or a crisis if it's proven that Russia did this. A lot of Republicans do, 37 percent, but look at this Jake, 26 percent of Republicans say not a problem at all if you prove that. That's a pretty stunning number.

If you prove the Russians, a foreign state act meddled in our election, it's not a problem at all, partisan inclination there. Again, what if the improper -- the question of was there collusion? Were there improper contacts between Trump campaign associates and the Russians during the election? If that we prove that, if that is proven, 18 percent say crisis, 40 percent say major problem and you see these numbers down here.

But, again, this is what most striking about this. Democrats, overwhelmingly think it's a crisis or a major problem. 20 percent of Republicans say even if it's proven, compelling case laid out, Trump associates were in collusion with the Russians. 20 percent of Republicans say not a problem at all.

Now, this has been in the news for how long, months, right? So what do American's think? Do they think there were improper contacts? Is that what they think today if this investigations play out?

As you can see if you add this up, 72 percent of Americans think it's at least somewhat likely there were some improper contacts. But, again, look at it from partisan perspective. It's the Democrats shaping these numbers because half of Democrats think it's extremely likely, 30 percent of Democrats, 31 think it's very likely.

Republicans tend to be down here. And, again, this is a pretty stunning number. 20 percent of Republicans say not at all likely. 31 percent say not too likely, but still 31 percent of Republican say somewhat likely. If you add this up, well in excess almost 50 percent of Republicans say it's at least somewhat likely, there were some improper contacts.

TAPPER: That's stunning. And there's no prove out that -- yeah, that anything done improper as of yet.

KING: No, we got -- this will carry over, well, into the second 100 days.

TAPPER: OK. John King, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

She's the top American diplomat to the United Nations. What does Ambassador Nikki Haley think about the president's approach to North Korea? We'll talk to her, next. Stay with us.


[21:35:59] TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead." I'm Jake Tapper. Let's turn to our world lead now. Some tough language at the United Nations earlier today, President Trump's United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley declaring today that Russia needs to stop backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his indiscriminate killing of his own people. I spoke with her earlier today.


TAPPER: And joining me now is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Ambassador Haley, thanks for coming on once again.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thanks so much Jake.

TAPPER: So today you confronted your Russian counterpart on the U.N. Security Council about Russia support for the Assad regime and their continued vetoes against any U.N. resolution about Assad. You said this, take a listen.

HALEY: Russia continues to cover for a leader who uses chemical weapons against his own people. Assad continues to do these things because they know Russia will continue to cover for them.

TAPPER: So, I guess Ambassador, my question is you've been a very forceful advocate against the brutality we've seen from the Assad regime and Russia being a patron of it. But beyond the tough talk, is there anything that the Trump administration is prepared to do to get the Russians to corporate in terms of sanctions or anything else?

HALEY: Well, first of all, let's look at the actual situation. I mean, there are people dying by the day, because they're not getting humanitarian aid that they need because the Assad regime is keeping it out and not allowing it to get in.

Now, today, the Russians basically said, "Look, the reason that this is happening is because they need all that medical care for the military." Well, the military doesn't need baby formula. The military doesn't need diapers. The military doesn't need dialysis treatment. That is what they're keeping from the people who are in need.

And so, what you've got as a regime who is saying you either bow down to us or we're going to starve you to death. And Russia is allowing this to happen. And there was a report released today about how awful the humanitarian issue was, and Russia then criticized the report.

But at the end of the day, the international community needs to put all eyes on Russia, all the pressure on Russia because every day that people die in Syria, it's all on Russia's hands in that way.

And so, what we're doing is we're going to continue to push. We did have a Security Council resolution a few weeks ago and Russia was the only one that vetoed it. So they're standing on an island. So we'll continue to take it and push it as best we can and we see what we need to do.

TAPPER: But no plans right now for any additional sanctions against Russia for this barbarity that they are supporting.

HALEY: We are continuing to talk about the issue and I think we'll handle it accordingly.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to some new CNN polls out just minutes ago. Take a look at these numbers about how Americans view Russia now compared to 2014. 41 percent say Russia is friendly. That's almost double the numbers from three years ago. And when you dive down, just Republicans, it's a huge lead. In 2014, 16 percent of Republican said Russia is an ally and a friendly nation. Now, it's 56 percent of Republicans say that.

I don't think it's any mystery that one of the reasons likely for that is that President Trump has said very, very positive things about Russia until about three weeks ago. This must alarm you that your own party seems to have such a different view of Putin than you do.

HALEY: It doesn't alarm me at all. If you look at what the president has done, he has done an incredible job at the foreign relation side of all of our issues. And so, what we've said with Russia is, look if we can work with them, especially on terrorism efforts, we're going to do that. But if they do something wrong, we're going to call them out on it.

So, it doesn't mean they have to be a friend or a faugh, it means we work with them when we can and when we can't work with them, we say the truth.

TAPPER: Do you think Russia is an ally or a friendly nation?

HALEY: I think Russia is an ally when they want to be and I think they're not an ally when they don't want to be. And I think that the days that they're an ally, I will work with them everyday that I can. And the days that they're not with us, I'll continue to call them out.

TAPPER: Another interesting poll number when asked about the likelihood of the Trump campaign and Russians had improper contact. More than 70 percent of Americans poll said it was somewhat likely, very likely or extremely likely. That is a lot of Americans.

[00:40:09] I know that you were not part of the campaign, but as somebody who obviously has a loud incredible voice, don't you think that Trump administration it would behoove them to be more transparent about everything they know to put any of these concerns to rest?

HALEY: I've really stayed out of that Jake, because I wasn't part of the campaign so I can't give any sort of factual information on that. And it's not involved in my world over at the United Nations. No one else is talking about it. And so, I've really kind of stayed away from all of that and stayed out of that D.C. chatter.

TAPPER: We're getting word that the U.S. is sending more troops to Afghanistan, this on the hills of the strikes, 59 tomahawk missiles against the Assad regime in Syria, dropping the MOAB against ISIS in Afghanistan. There are now more U.S. soldiers on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and extended military operations in Yemen and in Africa.

It seems as though the United States is engaged militarily more around the globe now than when President Trump first took office. Do you think that that in anyway is a contradiction from how he talked about America first and how he talked about disentangling the United States from these interventions abroad?

HALEY: Well, I can tell you what the international community is saying is they're still happy to see the United States lead again. And I think what we're doing is trying to make sure that any scenario that could cause harm to Americans we're making sure we keep it stable. We keep it at day and we make sure that we control the situation.

And I think when you look at the fact that Secretary Mattis went to Afghanistan, he very much was trying to look and see what we needed to do to stabilize the area. When you see what we're doing in North Korea, those plans are all in place so that we can protect Americans whether it's on military bases or whether it's here at home.

And so I think what you've seen as a president who in a short amount of time has really shown leadership in the international community in a way we haven't seen in a long time. And I will tell, there is a huge sigh of relief coming out of the international community to see America lead again. So, it's being taken very well.

TAPPER: Let's turn to North Korea. Just yesterday, Secretary Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson and the director of National Intelligence Dan Coats put out a joint statement. It said, "We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies." Do you think it's likely that the U.S. is headed for a military confrontation with Kim Jong-un and this regime?

HALEY: Well, I can tell you, I've been in the conversations with the National Security Council in terms of what we're going to do with North Korea. And it really is, it's all scenarios are on the table, so it really is all up to North Korea.

Based on what North Korea does, we have a plan for every one of those scenarios. And I think that, you know, what we have tried to say to North Korea is we're not looking to pick a fight, but don't give us a reason to have one. And so, it's now up to North Korea.

What I will tell you is we have seen unprecedented great partnership with China and the fact that they have really put the pressure on North Korea. We're encouraging them to continue the pressure on North Korea because that is the one country that can get them to move.

And I think that that goes back again to President Trump's foreign policy relationships that he is developing. The new relationship he has with China is pretty amazing. And the idea that we were -- for example, the Syrian resolution that we had a couple of weeks ago, the idea that we could pull China off of Russia when they had been with them several times before really is a testament to how these foreign relations are working out very strongly in the U.S. advantage.

TAPPER: Speaking of foreign relations, the White House is trying to decide right now whether the U.S. should pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. What kind of feedback and push back are you getting from U.S. allies with whom the Obama administration negotiated that agreement which President Trump has said, of course, was the worst deal ever signed? Would they object if the U.S. withdrew?

HALEY: You know, I think there's a lot of different views about the Iran deal from all of the ally nations and otherwise, because what we're hearing is they're all wondering exactly what we're going to do. But what we're focused on is what just happened.

And what President Obama did with that Iran deal was he just basically strengthened the one state that sponsors terrorism and he just took all the sanctions off of the country that continues to cause the most havoc, whether it's Syria, whether it's Iraq, any place around the world. You look at Iran and you see there's bad influence. And being that state sponsored of terrorism is something that we don't want to reward and he just rewarded bad behavior.

So, it's a matter of looking at what happened and President Obama said, "I'm going to kick this can down the road and wait and let another president handle it." And what President Trump's saying is, "Let's analyze this. I don't want to put this on someone else's plate. We need to figure out what to do with it."

TAPPER: Do you have a recommendation? Do you think the U.S. should withdraw from that treaty?

HALEY: I think that they need to continue discussions and that's something that I know that the National Security Council were all continuing to talk about. But I will tell you, we need to look at the safety of the international community.

[21:45:02]We need to look at what this does and how this empowers Iran to continue the violent acts that we know that they do to continue to support terrorism in the way that they do. And we need to really decide, do we want a nuclear Iran, because that's something very dangerous when you think about their ties to terrorism.

TAPPER: All right. Ambassador Nikki Haley, thanks so much for joining us. Good to see you again.

HALEY: OK. Thanks, Jake. TAPPER: It's going to be big, big story tomorrow. A last minute push to get health care through Congress before the president's 100-day in office, but is the rush to get President Trump a win, the right move? Our panel is back to discuss. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. More on our politics lead now in 98th of the Trump presidency. Republicans are in their two-minute offense trying to run a revived health care bill across the goal line in time for President Trump to spike the ball on the 100th day of his presidency, Saturday.

There are some changes to the bill that you might have missed if you blinked. There is now an out clause for states that don't want to require insurance companies to provide coverage for American with pre- existing conditions.

Today, I asked the House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black of Tennessee about that.


TAPPER: You're a nurse for decades.


TAPPER: Doesn't that concern you?

[21:50:00] BLACK: That's not so and that is what has been talked about in the media, but that's not so. This latest provision says that if a state decides that they're going to do certain measures on pre-existing conditions, they must have an alternative and that is they must have an alternative within their state for a high-risk pool.


TAPPER: So, they can't do this unless they have an alternative, but they can actually do it. So it's not --


TAPPER: You can opt out of the pre-existing condition requirement, but you just have to have a way to deal with people with it.

KUCINICH: And you don't know if that's going to work, you know. And so that's why a lot of -- this is getting a lot of moderates pause. What essentially this amendment to this bill did was shift the blame from the Freedom Caucus from blocking this thing, because they got all the blames and the nasty tweets and everything the last time to the moderates, to the Tuesday Group.

And this -- Congressman MacArthur is a member of the Tuesday Group but he acted alone. He wasn't going back to his guys in saying, "Hey, does this work for you?" And now they're angry because they're in districts where -- that are purple districts that are attacked every year. And if they vote for this thing, it's going to go to the Senate, it's going to probably die in the Senate and then they cast a vote that's politically detrimental and what do they have for it?

TAPPER: But do you think they have the vote, Steven -- I mean, Speaker Ryan has said he's not going to bring it to the floor unless he knows the votes are there. I don't -- he doesn't look like the votes are there.

KUCINICH: No. As of this afternoon when I was up there talking to members, they did not have the votes. People who where on the fence before seems further away from the fence. Someone like Mario Diaz- Balart who said he saw a lot of red flags.

TAPPER: And what do you think of this attempt to do this? It does seem like a lot of it is based on -- let's give the president some sort of win by Saturday.

HAM: Right. And I don't think it should be done for that reason. I do not mind the idea that somebody like Sean comes to Washington. Its like, "Oh, we failed on this the first time, that's fine. We're going try it again." Because everyone in this town is like, "Why would you do that?" And he does thing differently.

I don't mind that because something should be done. It's very easy -- it's actually easier not to act for both of these sides of the caucus. Acting is very hard. The only way that Obama got Obamacare through is by saying, "You won't lose anything, everything will be better for everyone. No one will be hurt." None of that was true.

Now, people are hurt and when you talk about these essential health benefits, what Obamacare did was built a giant package of benefits that have to be in every single health care plan. So then every state has to carry those and then that makes so much more expensive.

TAPPER: And, you know, we should point out, this is not just -- you know this. You were on an Obamacare exchange in the (inaudible) of Virginia. You know this.

HAM: Right. The individual market, which is the one that was most in danger from this, we shoulder all the burdens of this. I've lost four plans. I'm, you know, paying an exorbitant amount of health with this (inaudible) and its not me, its people who have far less than I do.

They almost can't use their health insurance because the deductibles are in the $10,000, $13,000, $15,000 range or $12,700 I think is the feeling. And so, there really is a problem here that should be addressed. It's very hard to address and I worry that the incentive is to not act.

KANDER: I think that was all an outstanding argument for what President Obama has said, which is there are things that could be made better here and let's focus on doing those things. That's what you would do in any other workplace, right?

Everybody would come together and say, "Oh, this is working for a lot of people but there are some areas where we would like to make adjustments to make it work better and you would be responsible when you do that."

What's happening here is they're coming up on 100 days so they've decided that they're going to go ahead and just act like they're cramming for a test. Throw it out. You know, trying -- I mean, no one is going to be happy with this because if you imagine the idea of saying to somebody who has a pre-existing condition right now that we're going to throw you back into limbo? You're going to have to be worried about it, about whether or not you're going to be able to get health care? Like -- it's serious stuff for people who will lose their life over that.

HAM: No one is happy for a reason. The reason no one have this is because it's not a full repeal. It doesn't look like a full repeal. It was never going to be a full repeal.

KANDER: No, no. A lot of people are not happy because it does really bad things.

HAM: Wait, hold on. When you give the state -- let me explain this for my left of center friends who only understand federalism when it applies to sanctuary cities. This is allowing states and cities -- states to do different things when it comes to health care choice. Allow some insurance companies to build different products that might be cheaper that younger people would buy, get them into pools so that you can (inaudible).

It doesn't mean that this bill is perfect, but the idea that letting some of these federal mandates become negotiable on a state level would hurt everyone. It's silly. You could you bring down some of this prices. You could build products that more people want.

TAPPER: I just want to bring in Andre because the present -- the promise of President Trump made, candidate Trump made about repealing and replacing Obamacare, that's an important one for him to keep.

BAUER: Very important. I think this is a huge mistake on CNN back in February. I said it won't happen by April. This is one-fifth of our economy. Republicans need to go through.

They need to talk about tort reform. They need to talk about reducing prices of prescription drugs. There needs to be free market you can shop for the best price for the different hospitals or whatever surgery you're going to have.

People need to have skin in the game. They need to have more knowledge. It needs to be very well thought out. There need to be a lot of deliberation and to ram this down the throat of the United States Congress is quickly is wrong.

TAPPER: Great, great, great panel. Thank you so much one and all for being here, Jason Kander, Andre Bauer, Jackie Kucinich and Mary Katharine Ham.

[21:55:03] We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Developing in the world lead tonight, the Pentagon is not yet releasing the names of two U.S. service members who were killed in what's become a hot bed zone in Afghanistan.

A U.S. official telling CNN that the two were special operators. The raid was today in the Achin District of Nangarhar Province. They were targeting Khorasan that's the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.

This district is where the U.S. dropped one of its most powerful bombs two weeks ago this evening. This is also where a different special operator was killed earlier this month, Army Staff Sergeant Mark De Alencar, who was from Edgewood, Maryland. A third special operator was wounded in today's raid. His injuries are not considered life threatening. We'll bring you more information as we learn it.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. And join us again tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and then at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Among our guess tomorrow, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. That's it for "The lead." I'm Jake Tapper.

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